An NHS mental health trust that is cutting staff and services has spent £1.2m in one year on a private hospital where one of its senior consultants is a director.
Dr Julian Beezhold, a consultant psychiatrist, serves as medical director at the private Milestones Hospital, near Norwich, as well as holding a senior role in planning changes to mental health services provided by the local NHS trust.
Anti-privatisation campaigners have called for an investigation into what they believe is the perception of a potential “conflict of interest”.
The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has been forced to make savings of £40m over four years. In 2013, it referred seven patients to Milestones, a trading name of a company called the Atarrah Project. The company, whose net worth more than doubled between 2011 and 2013, lists Dr Beezhold as a director.
There is no evidence that Dr Beezhold’s role with Milestones has had any impact on the trust’s decisions on bed closures or that he has acted inappropriately. The trust said all its placements were audited externally and internally.
Dr Clive Peedell, leader of the National Health Action Party, said the “conflict of interest” should be investigated, adding that he believed private companies were reaping growing rewards from “financially vulnerable trusts laid low by Government cuts”.
A spokesman for campaign group Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said that the trust had made 79 staff redundant in the past month.
The trust provides mental health, substance misuse and learning disability services. Dr Beezhold’s position as medical director and as an “investor” with the Atarrah Project is declared in the trust’s register of interests.
A trust spokesperson said: “The trust makes services available to service users according to their needs. Where the trust cannot meet the needs of an individual service user within its own services, it makes appropriate arrangements for specialist placements. The trust does not believe the public would wish us to prevent service users from receiving appropriate care.”
A spokesperson for Milestones said the clinic provided a "bespoke, holistic" service for a small number of women.
"Dr Beezhold is medical director and a shareholder who has an interest in ensuring that patients are treated in the best way possible," the spokesperson said. "His involvement in Milestones is approved and agreed by the Trust and openly declared in the Register of Interests held by the Trust. He has never had the authority, either now or in the past, to either close beds at the Trust or to approve the placement of patients at Milestones."